As the date of publication of the Leveson report approaches the self-interested spin machine of the popular press is going into overdrive. Today’s “Mail on Sunday” headline was “Cameron set to defy Leveson on law to allow state-controlled press… for now.” The story, attributed to “senior sources”, was to the effect that the Prime Minister was
“tipped to declare he is not prepared to wait that long and set out plans for a beefed-up voluntary press watchdog to be up and running within months. But Mr Cameron will warn that if any newspapers refuse to join the new body or flout its rulings, statutory regulation will be imposed – and may go even further than Leveson’s recommendations“.
This story was quickly denied by Downing Street with a spokesman saying
“The Prime Minister is open-minded about Lord Justice Leveson’s report and will read it in full before he makes any decision about what to do”
Hacked Off Director Brian Cathcart described these claims as “desperate wishful thinking”.
But the “Mail on Sunday” report does indicate the likely approach of the press should Leveson recommend statutory underpinning for press regulation: give us one last chance to put our house in order.
As George Eustice MP pointed out on the BBC News today, the press have been given a number of “last chances” over the past 65 years. The Hacked Off blog has listed them as follows:
1953. Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. Only the threat of legislation forced them to create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing his private member’s Bill, C.J. Simmons MP told the Commons: ‘I give warning here and now that if it [the Council] fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.‘
1962. A second Royal Commission told the press self-regulation wasn’t working and proposed steps to make it effective: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.‘
1977. The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical reform of the Press Council and said that if nothing was done parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’
1990. Parliament backed the Calcutt Committee recommendations for radical change to self-regulation, including the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission. Papers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work and the Home Secretary, David Waddington, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’
1993. The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not . . . an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this and the PCC continued.
2011. In the Commons in July 2011, speaking after the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’